George Eats Pie Crust

Times tables.  Cursive handwriting.  Parts of speech.

These stand amongst the most memorable and usable things I learned in the third grade, but through the years, another practical tidbit from a gifted Sunday school teacher continues to rank among the top five.

George Eats Pie Crust.

G – Galatians

E – Ephesians

P – Philippians

C – Colossians

I have no idea if she developed this helpful acronym or if it’s something she selflessly passed onto her students.

I consider it a distinct privilege to have sat under her tutelage.

Memories fade over time, but I’ll never forget how upset I was when Mom told me who I’d gotten for my third grade Sunday school teacher: Mrs. Harmon.

“But, Mom,” I’d cried, “I wanted Grandma!”

My maternal grandmother taught third grade at our church, and there were only two girls’ third grade classes, hers and Mrs. Harmon’s.  Even harder to stomach was the fact that my uncle oversaw the Primary Department (grades (1-3), and for whatever reason had decided to put me in Mrs. Harmon’s class.

To this day, I have no idea why.  But I’m glad he did.

He gave me the opportunity to learn from this amazing, intelligent person.  I’d previously only known her from afar as “The Pastor’s Wife”, a woman to be revered, imitated, and respected.  But I now remember her as one of the most humorous, caring, fun-loving people I’ve encountered in this life.

She’d always have a funny story or a joke to share before starting class.  Her knowledge of the Bible was outstanding – she could hold her ground against theologians any day.  And she’d always try to trip me up when we did Sword Drills.

She tell us kids to raise our Bibles high in the sky and then call out a scripture reference.  We’d repeat it and then she’d say, “Ready, Go!” And we’d rush to be the first to find it.  And then every so often, she’d get this sneaky look in her eye, saying, “Zedakiah 5:3!”

We’d repeat.  Pages would rustle and rustle until realization dawned.

“There is no Zedakiah!”

And there she would sit with her cheeky grin.  “That’s right!  Made you look.”

There are few greater gifts on this earth than a fantastic Sunday school teacher.

Thank you, Mrs. Harmon, for giving of your time and of yourself.  Thank you for sowing so much good into my mind and my soul.  Your love and support have lasted long and continue on as I teach my children the lessons you taught me.

May God continue to richly blesses you and yours, both today and beyond!

Much love to you – and Happy Birthday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(those of you who know my son, John, understand – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree).

An example of the many tools Mrs. Harmon used to teach us about the Book she loved most.

I am indebted to you forever, Mrs. Harmon.  Thank you for sowing into my life and the lives of my children and one day, their children.  It was an honor to sit under your tutelage.

Fifteen Minutes with a Stranger

Have you ever benefitted from a seemingly negative circumstance?

I have.  Profoundly.

As we’ve searched for a second vehicle over the past several weeks, the kids and I have relied on Uber to get us where we need to go when Christian is at work, and one afternoon when both of our cars weren’t available, I found myself in the unique position of catching a ride to an appointment alone.

The Uber pulled up, and I hopped into the front seat.  The driver’s mouth fell open.  It was only then that I realized what I’d done.  Typically, my children pile in the backseat while I ride with the driver, but today, I had no reason to pop up front.

Whoopsie.

“I’m so sorry!” I flew out of that car as if I were a chicken heading for the chopping block and hurled myself into the backseat.

The driver laughed and laughed, assuring me it would’ve been fine to ride up front.

“I so surprised,” he’d said.  “No person ride up here with me.  Nobody ever.”

I giggled.  Leave it to me.

I then found myself pondering what a unique opportunity these Uber rides created, a window in which we could engage in the past-time of socialization, all within a small, confined space and approximately 15-minute timeframe.

I realize everyone is different.  Some people may not enjoy striking up conversations with total strangers and cannot begin to wrap their minds around chatty Cathies like me who can talk to the wall.

But most seem to like it when I seek them out.

My thrifty side detests the expense, but I find myself looking forward to the next time I get into a car with a total stranger.

But why?

I love people.  My sanguine side genuinely can’t get enough.  I feed off listening to and learning from people from all walks of life.  Christian, my husband, can tell when I need a fix.

“You need to get out, don’t you, Sweetheart?”

Just yesterday, I realized how much I enjoy popping into Ubers and chatting with the drivers.  Most of them want to talk, but once in a while, they stay on their headsets and immerse themselves in their private calls, which is fine.

I’m not about to force it.

My kids know how I am.  They used to roll their eyes and mumble, “Here she goes,” when I would open my mouth during the silence following our settling in for the ride.  But now, after we get in, one of them tends to pipe up and ask, “So, do you like driving for Uber?”  And, after a polite response, the next question follows. “Where are you from, originally?”

Because we live ten minutes from Manhattan, our drivers often originate from different countries, so we’ve gotten varied responses to that question, one that not only opens conversational doors – it opens hearts.  Typically nothing illuminates the drivers’ faces more than sharing thoughts of their homeland and their families.  Even the most stoic, crusty soul will offer detail after detail about something that they love.

We’ve learned about Egyptian history and topography, the challenges of the people of Venezuela, and life in Peru, Colombia, Chile, and more.  My children sit mesmerized as they hear the plights of immigrants, the stories of different countries and cultures, and the lessons learned through managing an independent business in a foreign land.

Talk about an education!  I must remember to put a world map in my purse.

But it’s not just about information – it’s about this person that God, whatever His reason, has allowed to cross our path that day.  I want my kids to grow up knowing this and caring about everyone they encounter, valuing them and appreciating the opportunity before them.

All people crave to be known and to matter.

When was the last time someone asked you to tell your story?  Not just the basic “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” but instead gave full attention to who you are and how you came to be where you’re at in life?

Every person is important.  And every person has a story worth listening to.  In our technological era, such engagement can sadly prove a rarity.  Parents spend more time texting at playgrounds than they do watching Sally Sue go down the slide much less saying hello to other parents across the wood chips.

I want to spend my life listening and learning, lingering and lauding, laughing with and loving on people who may not have anyone in their circle interested enough to ask and appreciate them for the person that they are.

Ah, the pleasure of people!  Pure and profound, may it last ’til my grave, for I believe that relationships and the pursuit of them is what the best of this life is all about.  May I spend every day pouring into the hearts and minds of those around me, infusing love and encouragement – even through little things.

One driver and I had a great conversation about how he loved to go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru and pay for the car behind him.

“It’s my way to show kindness.”

I whipped around to the backseat.  “Did you hear that, kids, how this gentleman showed kindness in the drive-thru?”  They talked excitedly amongst themselves.

“That’s so great!  Say, Mom, let’s do that next time we go through the drive-thru.”

The driver winks at me, and I thank him for teaching my children about kindness.

All because we had to take an Uber.

Thank You, God, that our car is in the shop.  Thank You for the opportunity to meet people we otherwise would never have met.  Thank You for the lessons learned and the time well spent.  

Fifteen minutes with a stranger.

 

The Morgan Family Extravaganza

My budding entrepreneurs have done it again.

Today we’re hosting The Morgan Family Extravaganza, a new and fun endeavor that includes everything from baked goods to painted bud vases.

The kids have been busy creating and planning, baking and painting, wrapping and printing over the past several weeks, and the big day has finally arrived.

I will wake them shortly.

John most likely won’t need waking, as he typically rises before dawn.  Abby will leap out of bed smiling and tasking everyone as to the set up for the morning rush.  Hannah will roll over, snuggle the covers under her chin, and ask why on earth did we decide to start before 10 am.

Aha!  I called it . . . here he comes.

All three are so different with such varied interests.  Hannah has a heart for feeding people, so she put together a lovely lemonade stand and bake sale called Fluffy’s Treats.  With a color scheme of light blue and yellow, her wares will surely attract the masses, and once they sample her goods, she’ll have many happy customers.

My boy plans to take the opportunity to promote Take Out 56 (his trash/recycling can retrieval business) by distributing flyers and running a raffle to win a special t-shirt prize.  He’s also in charge of the garage sale items.

And last but not least, little Abby Mae is having an art studio sale.  She’s my painter, and she has created many beautiful crafts and wall hangings that will be sure to catch every eye.

I’m so proud of them.  They’ve wanted to do this for a long time.  For years, actually.  Dreams of doing so have gotten us through some tough times.

Extravaganza-type dreams are good for the soul, and the hope therein can bring families even closer together, even on the rainiest of days.

But I admit, I’m thankful the sun’s shining brightly today, and the wind has died down.  John stood outside advertising after school let out yesterday.  Talk about an effective marketing department!  Abby assisted so that the sign wouldn’t blow away.

The hour is upon us – I must hasten to prepare the extravaganza with the fam.

If you’re local, PLEASE stop in for a cup of lemonade and join the fun anytime between 8:30 am and 4 pm.  We’d love to see you!

The Gentleman

I love this picture.

Christian took it with his drone when the two of us snuck away last fall to Rockland Lake State Park in Rockland County, NY.  He also made this movie:

When I caught sight of this amazing creature, it took my breath away.  Bursts of autumn rusts and golds amid the greens served as the perfect backdrop for the lone marvel of the sky, its stately reflection dancing up towards the sunlight.  The bird, majestic and graceful, its wings outstretched, its blue-gray feathers gently moving with deep, deliberate strokes above the water.

How effortlessly he seemed to fly, this great blue heron, his twiggy legs dangling, his long powerful wings carrying wherever he wished.  So handsome was he, this “Lord of Rockland Lake”, clothed in sunlight and splendor.

I named him The Gentleman.

In homeschool this week, we are studying gentleness, which our family counselor, Dr. Wayne Schantzenbach, describes as, “strength under control.”  The kids and I have enjoyed many conversations about this important character quality, one which Christian and I strive to not only instill in our children but also model for them.

We sometimes fail, sometimes miserably, but it remains a goal.  And we’ve found that the “I’m sorry”s that follow the failing often serve to teach and grow us up together.

I’m thankful to have Someone to Whom I can turn for help in the midst of my struggles, the One whose gentleness surpasses all.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30, NKJV).

Thank You, Lord, for this majestic bird, a breathtaking reminder of Your unsurpassed strength that can carry and keep us through every storm – and beyond.

Ironman Fran

“Hey Beth, Tony texted me.”  Drawing near the kitchen table, my husband paused as he placed a hand on my shoulder.  “Frannie passed out, so he called 9-1-1.  They’re at the hospital.”

I hate news like that.

We’ve borne far beyond our share of bad calls within our family over the years, but to receive one pertaining to my dear friend, Fran Lombardi, rattled my cage.  In an instant, my Cheerios® and banana breakfast became pebbles in my mouth, the rest left behind in the bowl, morphing into a soggy, pasty mess.

It’s amazing how one phone call can jolt us out of the present, thrusting us into the reality of our own mortality.

Please, Lord!  Not Frannie.

I’d met Frannie two years ago at a church retreat, and as we chatted over a cup of tea, I found her to be one of the most positive people I’d ever met.  Over time, we became dear friends, as I gleaned much from her quiet, gentle spirit and loving ways.

I didn’t want to lose her.

Thoughts raced like Thoroughbreds through my mind as I fumbled for my phone.

Dehydration?  Heart attack?  Stroke?  I gulped.  Cancer?  

I shook my head.  Stop diagnosing, Beth, and call Tony!

I punched in his number.

Her husband didn’t answer, but Christian and I offered our prayers and support on voicemail.  We rushed the kids through breakfast, and as I began getting them dressed to go to the hospital, we got word that Frannie was okay.  Earlier in the week, she’d caught a cold, and the ER doctor believed that the OTC the medication she’d taken had caused her blood pressure to bottom out.

Thank God!

Frannie is a Stage IV lymphoma survivor.  She’s enjoyed remission as long I’ve known her, but the what-if has reared its ugly head the few times something unusual has happened.

Like when she and I had planned to race the Demarest Triathlon together back in June of 2016.  It was my first race, her third, and we were excited.  We trained hard.  Our amazing husbands supported us like crazy, and somewhere between homeschooling and writing, I squeezed in my workouts in preparation for the sprint distance event.

Roughly one month before race day, I got the call.

“Frannie’s in the ER.”

She’d been over-training, gotten dehydrated, and simply tanked, but the whole experience shook us all and left sweet Frannie completely wiped out.  We all knew she shouldn’t race, but hats off to Tony for the way he handled it.

“It’s her decision.”

Frannie chose not to race, but selfless as usual, she encouraged me to compete.  I hesitated, but when I saw how much it meant to her that I continue, my mind was made up.

Press on, I did.

The remaining training proved nothing short of grueling for me as I dealt with the “knowing” Frannie wouldn’t compete, but her episode at the hospital stirred something inside me, a growling, burning passion that compelled me to move forward, faster, father.  Gratefulness that her cancer had not resurfaced surged within me, and when June 6th arrived, I stood ready at the start.

I raced alone.  For Frannie.

For all of her seemingly wasted hours in the pool, on the bike, and on the road.  For all the disappointment she’d surely felt for not being able to race the tri herself.  For all of the recent fear she’d had to face and the questions her heart had undoubtedly asked.

For the fact that she was alive and cancer-free!

And there she was, on the sidelines, cheering me on every step of the way along with Tony, Christian, and the kids.  She’d poured all of her disappointment into one big lump of encouragement, offering me strength in spite of her weakness, the epitome of a precious friend.

Thank you, sweet Frannie, for your millions of smiles and thoughtful words.  Thank you for loving on my kids and calling them precious.  Thank you for making the calls that count and being our family’s friend through every storm.

A friend [who] loves at all times. (Prov. 17:17)

Frannie went on to race the following year.  I had to sit out due to injury, but I look forward to racing with her (Lord-willing) this summer.

What an honor it was to watch her run, bike, and swim (with our families and our good friend, Mark), to cheer her on from the sidelines, to witness these special moments of victory in her life!  I don’t remember who had the best official time that day back in August, but I will forever remember the winner.

Iron Man Fran.

Please click the link below if you’d like to see Iron Man Fran in action:

Crazy Great Shirt

I’d thought we were out of the woods.

How quickly one seemingly small glitch nearly turned my son’s health down a disastrous spiral.

John was born with Gastroschisis, a birth defect in which the intestines are formed outside the baby’s body through a large hole in its belly.  Because John’s intestines were also blocked and required additional surgical intervention, the doctors initially gave him only a 15% chance of making it.

Praise God, he made it.

After four-and-a-half months in the hospital, John came home with an NG-feeding tube, which ran through his nose down to his belly.  He detested it and continually yanked it out.  The tube proved necessary because John threw up every time he ate.  The only reason the doctors had let him come home was because, in spite of the vomiting, he still gained weight.

Once we came home, our brilliant pediatrician, Dr. Scott Rice, started John on a motility agent, which solved the vomiting problem.  The tube came out, and we all rejoiced, thrilled to eliminate that source of irritation from his life.  Within the next two years, he dramatically improved and was eventually directed to stop all medication as he was discharged from the outpatient GI service, taking only probiotics for gut health and a standard children’s multivitamin.

So for the past five years, things had been going extremely well.  Until.

I’d lately detected an increasing resistance to his probiotic in the early fall.  His occasional vomiting episodes gradually increased, so much so that I began researching alternatives.  John is picky due to his sensitive gag reflex, and finding a new brand proved not only expensive but also fruitless.  Within a week, I realized how long I’d been out of the nutrition field and that I’d used up all of my dietitian know-how and tricks.

It shook me.

John needed help.  Before his gut stopped working.

It hasn’t happened since his discharge, and I was surprised by how intensely the thought of him regressing threatened to paralyze me with fear.  Even though many moons had passed since he’d had any problems, the nightmare of his hospitalization and ensuing medical crisis flashed back in an instant.  I fought the urge to panic.  As soon as I identified my “peace-snatcher”, I hit my knees.

“Lord, please help me find a permanent solution for John – and fast!”

Enter Aegis Boyer Stuart.

I’ve known Aegis a long time and have followed her from afar on Facebook, noticing her frequent posts about various nutrition products but letting them gloss right over me.

Until I needed something.  Desperately.

As a former Registered Dietitian, I had a bad taste in my mouth for alternative health products because I’d spent years dispelling myths to earnest weight-loss seekers and trying to spare my cancer patients from emptying their pocketbooks on bogus products designed to deceive, not heal.

But I knew I could trust Aegis.

I now considered for the first time what she had to say and clicked on her post about probiotics, now excited to learn about the available products and research how well-made they were.  I reached out to her, and she was extremely helpful, connecting us with a combination multi-vitamin/probiotic for John, praying it would work.

Thank God, it did.

He’s only vomited once since he started taking it, and I think that’s only because he ate candy on an empty stomach.  Amazing!  While I haven’t yet researched the rest of the product line, I’m proud to stand behind her Plexus XFactor Kids combined probiotic and multivitamin.  I ordered four additional bottles today.

As I typed a quick update/thank you message to Aegis this week, I realized that this wasn’t the first time God has used her to bring healing to my life.

I remember the first time I met her at church.

We were at one of the first gatherings of a new 20-30’s age group Bible study.  With eccentric flair, Aegis sported the grunge look and wore a T-shirt that declared, “Body piercing saved my life.”

Images of nose rings and ears laden with studs flooded my mind, and disdain rose within me.

Really?  How in the world could cosmetic body piercing and self-inflicted pain actually save?  

Looking back, I can see the upward turn of my top lip and sneering countenance, not understanding until she turned around and I saw the accompanying image that the pierced One her shirt referenced was her Savior.

My Savior.  God forgive me.

Years ago, I confess I had a profound aversion to non-traditional “church people”, not knowing what to do with them beyond exchanging polite formalities and general well-wishes.  They unnerved me.

I’d grown up in an ultra-conservative environment, one that strived to please God but was often tainted with cynicism and judgment, and when I traversed outside my whitewashed bubble, I found myself unprepared to handle and reconcile difference, somehow feeling like I was compromising if I allowed myself to consider things from a different angle.  I coped by displaying warmth and respect while inwardly harboring prideful contempt.

Hypocrite.

I ended up in her mom’s Bible study.  As I got to know Aegis and her family, I came to the painful realization that I had a serious heart issue, one I didn’t want to have, a poisonous cancer that if not lacerated and extracted would cause serious damage to my spiritual life.

Ouch.  But so worth the process.

Over time, as iron sharpens iron, God has used (and continues to use) people like Aegis to expose what He wants to change in my life.  Shortly after I was married, I asked my husband what he wanted for Christmas.  Totally in the dark about the past mess in my mind, he said, “I’d like one of those ‘Body piercing saved my life’ t-shirts that Aegis wears.”

Ha!

I think of her every time I launder it.  I owe much to this loving wife and homeschooling mother of two, this gifted entrepreneur and devoted follower of Christ.

Thank you, Aegis, for not only talking the talk but also walking the walk.  Thank you for spending much of yourself to help others find health and healing.  Thank you for wearing that crazy great shirt.

I rejoice with you for all the good God has wrought in your life and pray He continues to richly bless you and your precious family both today – and beyond.

Paper Plate

What on earth am I going to do? 

Homeschool would begin in less than ten minutes, and there I was, scrambling to pull together an engaging lesson on an important topic.

Respect.

Over the past two days, my children had completed activities on the subject.  Both had gone well, but I yearned for something more, an interaction that would engage their hearts and impact them forever.

I hadn’t realized until that moment how much this meant to me.  Normally I would let a less-than-perfect lesson go and revisit it the following day, but this was different somehow.

I wanted this morning to matter.

The clock ticked on as I grew exponentially agitated.  Nothing was coming to me.  No lightning bolts or ingenious worksheets.  No personal flashbacks or astounding video presentations.

I couldn’t make it happen.

 

I felt ridiculous slapping the lesson together.  How could I not have placed a higher priority on preparing to impart such a critical character trait to my children?  Respect was important!  And there I was, disrespecting respect.

God, forgive me.  Please, Lord, grant us breakthrough.

Peace washed over me.  God gave no immediate answers, but I knew He would somehow provide.  I rose, resuming my morning preparations.  As pancakes sizzled, I unpacked our picnic basket, drawing out yesterday’s leftover paper products.

As I stored them in the cupboard, my eyes fell on a stack of paper plates.  They were the six-inch dessert size.  I stood mesmerized.  The small circle was milky white, so pure.  No cake crumbs or watermelon seeds, no ketchup smears or pickle juice.

It looked perfect.

I felt this tugging in my heart to pull one out, so I complied.  I raised the plate eye-level, as if it were a face looking right into mine.

And then it hit me.

“Good Morning, Mom . . . uh,“ said the Early Bird, peering around the corner.  He balled his fists, rubbed his eyes, and then looked at me again.  “Mom, what are you doing?”

I lowered the plate and smiled.

“Good Morning, John.”  I grabbed a stack of plates, tossing, “I’ll be right back!” over my shoulder as I darted out of the room.  As quickly as I could, I affixed tape to the backs of the plates and stuck one in a visible area of every room in the house.

I texted my husband for assistance.  He loves impromptu requests and happily obliged.  While I poured milk and juice, pictures popped onto my phone of plates hanging all around one of the recycling plants he runs in New York City.  A plate on his office wall, another wired to his hard hat so that when he went up to the roof, the plate was there, overhead.

I texted him a big heart and a smiley face.  My lesson at long last stood ready.  This was going to be great!

The girls emerged from the stairs sleepy-eyed and sweet, taking their places at the table.  After greeting my children, I waited to see who would ask first.  It didn’t take but two minutes.

“Mommy, why is there a paper plate taped to the wall?”

“It’s a reminder that God is here with us.”  We discussed all the places God could be.  Outer space, Australia, Dairy Queen, etc.  We talked about the world, our country and state, as well as various places in our community.  Then I shifted the conversation to how we would handle our interactions with people differently if God were visually present in every conversation.

“We would be on our best behavior – everywhere, all the time,” John said.  Their heads nodded.

“That’s right!” I said.  “Sometimes we all need help remembering to make good choices.  These plates are a good reminder for adults, too!”  I picked up my cell phone and captivated them with their father’s “Plates at Work” photos.

“Daddy’s doing it at work?”  They beamed, incredulous that a grown man would play along in a professional environment.

“Don’t you think God is at Daddy’s work?”  More nodding.

“Hey, wait a second,” said my son, pausing dramatically, folding his arms across his chest.  “Is God watching us like a spy?”

“Not really,” I said.  “He’s not waiting to zap us if we make a mistake.  He’s always loving us, standing with us, using His power to help and strengthen us.  The plate can remind us of all those important things in addition to helping us remember to make good choices if we take the plate seriously.”

“You mean take God seriously,” Hannah said.

“That’s right,” I said.  “That is respect.  Taking God – and others – seriously.”

Quiet chewing of pancakes ensued as these ideas tumbled around the young minds seated before me.  We paused the lesson while one of the girls used the ladies’ room.

Upon her return, she said, “There’s a plate in the bathroom!”  Laughter filled the air.  Hands on hips, she turned to me and said, “Ok, Mom.  This is really creepy.  I took it down.”

“Don’t you think God is in the ba–“

“Mom!  That is SO gross!”

“Well, I didn’t mean it in a gross way.  Haven’t you ever prayed in the bathroom?”  Eyeballs rolled.  Lungs exhaled large, long sighs.

The child who prays a lot in the bathroom and will remain nameless nodded discreetly.  I sacrificed myself before the others picked up on it.

“I have!  When I’m sick or having a hard time, I pray – even in there!  Look, I didn’t want to leave anything out for the lesson’s sake.  I can’t use paper plates to show God is everywhere and then skip a room, now can I?”

Giggles.

“Well, I’m taking it down when I’m in there.”

“Fine.  Put it back up when you’re done.”

Over time, the plates have blended in, losing the “what’s that doing there?” eyesore effect.  Admittedly, sometimes I blow off “the plate” and don’t take it seriously.  Sometimes I pretend it’s not there.  Sometimes I don’t see it because I’m not looking for it.

But often, I see it and smile.  Other times, I’ve searched it out and turned my heart heavenward.  And in several trying moments, my eyes have been drawn to it by Him.  Most of the plates have come down (I kept one in our bedroom, and my husband left one up in his office), but the lesson remains.

For us all.